Czech Republic seals $6.6 billion F-35 deal amid Gripen lease uncertainty
The Czech government has signed a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) with the US this week to buy 24 F-35A jets in a US$6.6 billion contract, finalising its agreement for the fifth-generation fighters. Under the deal, signed by defence minister Jana Cernochova and US ambassador to the Czech Republic Bijan Sabet, the Lockheed Martin jet deliveries will take place between 2031 and 2035.
“By signing this intergovernmental agreement, our country and also our army enter a new era,” Cernochova said, adding that the fighter deal was the biggest single arms contract in the history of her country.
As Shephard reported, the central European nation’s government approved the sale of the two dozen fighters last October, dispelling any lingering doubts about its commitment to the fighter programme. The lease agreement on the Czech Air Force’s current fleet of Gripen C/D will expire in 2029, however, two years before the first F-35 lands in the country.
Saab and the Czech Republic have been discussing a potential Gripen lease extension until 2035 at the beginning of 2023. These talks took place because of concerns the F-35s might not be delivered on time if a contract was signed – Prague and Washington had been discussing a deal since July 2022.
The country was seeking a lease extension on the 14 Gripens it currently operates so that it would not fall into the same situation as neighbouring Slovakia, which ordered 14 F-16 Block 70 fighters in 2018, but suffered delivery delays due to microchip shortages.
Noticing Prague’s evident preference for procuring two squadrons of F-35s, in June 2022 the Swedish ambassador to the Czech Republic, Fredrik Jörgensen, extended a nearly cost-free lease extension proposal. In an interview, he expressed the view that Prague could retain the Gripens it had leased from Sweden without any additional charges.
The 14 currently leased Gripen C/D aircraft would be handed over to the Czech Air Force at no cost or a nominal price, subject to the purchase of a second squadron of the E model. This arrangement would have enabled the Czech Republic to effectively double its air power at reasonable cost, while preventing Saab from losing another customer to Lockheed Martin.
No updates on the lease extension talks had been made since April 2023, but in September, the Czech government said that acquiring and operating F-35s would be cheaper than Gripen Es. The lease on the Swedish fighters ends in 2029, leaving the Czech Air Force with a two-year fighter jet capability gap, so the idea of extending the Gripen lease may still have some life in it.
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